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Friday, February 11, 2011

Turning Pages

I swear, I am not a pack rat.

My bookshelf would beg to differ. I've bagged up about 150 books to donate. Wow. That seems like a lot. But they're old friends who've shared my journey. They represent the people, places and pages of my life for the past 15 years. When I moved into my condo seven years ago, it seemed perfect because it had enough space for all of my books.

There's the copy of Pride and Prejdice from my high school library, complete with bar code and a due date stamped inside: April 7, 1992. When I tried to return it, Mrs. Hollingworth said I could keep it...she had others. I'm not sure I even finished it back then, but despite its duct-taped spine and falling-out pages, it's still one of my favorites.

There's Silent Spring, the book Nancy Lindstrom made my tenth-grade English class read. We whined and moaned about it...and then I was proud to have read it when I got to college and realized what a seminal text it is.

There's my collection of Faulkner novels, started with my junior-year term paper and continued during a course at Duke. Every August, I promise myself I'll read Light in August again to remember why it was my favorite.

There's my 1975 hardback copy of C.A. Tripp's The Homosexual Matrix, a study of the anthropological and biological origins of sexual orientation. Teaching a Christian faith and sexuality weekend for middle school students at my church in Dothan, Alabama, I worried how we might be expected to answer the kids' questions about homosexuality. The fatherly physician who was my co-facilitator suggested I read Tripp's book and reassured me with his intellectual approach.

There are the books that are relics to my dream of being a great reporter: autobiographies by Dan Rather, Charles Kuralt, Leslie Stahl, Maria Shriver. A copy of the Broadcast Voice Handbook, with vocal exercises stuffed in the back from a coaching session with the author.

There are books that remind me of how much I grew and learned in college, including a dozen books about the craft of writing. I'm not sure I've cracked them in this decade...but I day! There are the feminist books I saved from my introduction to cultural studies: Barbie's Queer Accessories and Forever Barbie. You could write a book about the way people play with Barbies and what it means? Cool!

There are the books that remind me of people: the copy of The Incas I got from a guy I was dating the Christmas I went to Peru. Pilots, Man Your Planes, by Jim Campbell, the World War II veteran who sat on the pew behind my family every Sunday at church. Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, with an inscription from a friend that reads: "To Lynsley, who knows what is really meant by the phrase 'bastard' in the South." I never asked what she meant. Doesn't everybody know that word?

There's a collection of Pablo Neruda love poems in Spanish and Portuguese, a gift from a Brazilian boyfriend. And a copy of The Alchemist, also in Portuguese, another gift from another Brazilian boyfriend.

I purchased El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera in the Madrid airport in May 1997 and read through approximately page 50. (I finally finished it in English last year.) My Dictionary of Spoken Spanish takes me back to the semester after I studied in Madrid, when I polished my fluency learning idomatic phrases like ver el cielo abierto (to see the open sky), which means to see a great opportunity. It sits next to the copy of Nancy Friday's The Power of Beauty from my internship at CNN in the summer of 1997. I worked in the guest bookings department, which was flooded with free books from publicists seeking air time for their authors.

There's Crazy in Alabama, which the district attorney of Dale County, Alabama, suggested I read one day as we chatted while I set up my camera to interview him about a pending trial. How can I get rid of that? I was crazy in Alabama!

I read recently that there are two types of clutter: memory clutter and "I-might-need-it-one-day" clutter. Reading that, I realized most of my books easily fall into those two categories. And I realized holding on to the books was about holding on to the hopes and memories of what they represent...who I am, who I was, who I'd like to be. I don't have to hold these books in my hand anymore for them to remain a part of my life. You don't have to see or touch your friends every day in order to treasure them.

I'm keeping a precious few favorite books. The rest are sitting in my car now, waiting for me to drive them to the used bookstore that benefits Charlotte's Habitat for Humanity. I'm trusting that these books have been a gift to me, and now they can be a gift to someone else. Sometimes you have to create space on the shelves of your life so you can let new things in. Otherwise, how can you see the open sky?

It's time to turn the page.


Kate said...

You make a good point here. I have a lot of books that I have kept for sentimental reasons. Maybe I should donate them? Also, my ipad and kindle are cutting this problem off as of 2009.

Katie Welch said...

I'll be heading to Julias. I have but one luxury--books.

Nicole said...

Thanks for the heads up on the blog entry. I really loved it. I would also add to this list that I have an embarrassing number of books that I keep "meaning to read", but haven't yet. :-)

Elyse {Pretty. Happy. Busy.} said...

You are right, a lot of people will be in for a treat when they come across some of your old loves at the second hand store. Very generous of you! This was a lovely read, thanks for posting. xo,e

Mandy said...

Lynsley - just catching up on your blog today. I love this post about getting rid of books. It used to be such a difficult thing for me to do, especially since I could just move books out of my house and to the shelves in my classroom. Now, with no classroom dumping ground, I'm being much more careful about which books I buy to stick on my shelves at home... And I'm seriously considering purchasing a Kindle, which feels almost sacrilegious! :)

Neil said...

Light in August is my favorite too! I would love to re-read it. I'm sure I would get so much more out of it now...